“Another one bites the dust!” has been the anthem of our homestead this past year and a half. We broke ground up here in mountainous Montana with a clear goal in mind: to break up with the grocery store one item at a time until we are feeding ourselves homegrown and foraged food . . . ideally for free. Yes, it is slow going, but actually not as slow as we expected! It’s been a joy watching our garden expand as that cart trims down with each growing season. And even though we aren’t really saving much yet as everything will be balancing out those start-up costs for some time, sourcing our own food has already been far more rewarding than we’d imagined. Savings are grand, but the food itself is proving to be the real showstopper. It looks better, it smells better, it tastes better, and we feel better for having eaten it. Fresh-from-the-garden meals just make you close your eyes and say, “oh mercy.”
Read on to find out what we’ve trimmed from our grocery list after just two growing seasons!
Home is where the food grows.
“Eating out of the garden” was just the way we did summer when I was growing up. This means, quite simply, that my family’s dinner plates from June through September were covered mostly in produce picked within the hour.
Food “packaging” in my childhood kitchen was mainly a collection of woven African baskets. Each overflowing with contrasting colors and textures, they were nestled in every corner and lined along the floorboards. Apples didn’t come with stickers, they came with worms. Potatoes didn’t have eyes growing out of a dull, beige skin; they were bright fuchsia and mud-caked.
Ears of corn didn’t arrive to the fridge bruised and pallid, sharing a black Styrofoam coffin. Rather, they were delivered practically alive to the front door. Still tucked in their lime green buntings, each with hair swept to one side, they peered over the rim of a five-gallon bucket.
Along with the ears came a re-cap of the five o’clock news, straight from the farmer’s mouth. Those summer evenings, at dusk when the sun told him he must be obliged to punch his timecard, Dad would haul the fresh corn to the house. Portable radio held on one shoulder (he didn’t get a Walkman until after Y2K), he’d ring the doorbell with his free hand. This signaled the husking drill. My sisters and I would head out and around to the side of the house where Dad would dump the corn under the lemon tree. There, in faded jeans splattered with tractor oil and whitewash of the original kind, he would get down onto his knees and hover over the pile. We girls would sit “Indian-style,” (since renamed “crisscross-applesauce,” but alas, we weren’t very PC yet in the 90’s . . . even in California).
Toss, toss, toss. As if in time with each other, my dad and sisters would fling the better-than-cellophane wrappings back into the bucket, husk after husk, to be fed to the chickens. Meanwhile, my chubby little fingers would struggle over a single cob for the duration of the drill. So tempting were the husks, I’d steal some aside to make into a corn husk doll later on, a notion I almost always forgot by dinnertime.
Painstakingly, we would peel the silk hairs from the rows of shiny gold and cream-colored kernels, using our dirty fingernails to try and wrench the sticky sweet strands from their protective grip. Never could we get them all, and the boiling pot would have to finish the job, the hairs rolling and swirling at the surface like long strands of seaweed in a bubbling ocean.
The cob, topped with a thick slab of white butter, was the main course of summer, and usually a few of them in a pyramid on each of our plates. Indeed, we were told to eat as many ears as we could. Alongside, we were sure to have green beans, roasted potatoes, and sautéed summer squash. There would be a side salad, lean on lettuce, stuffed with cucumbers and tomatoes. What else were we to do with them all? Weekends there might be a pot roast on a bed of potatoes, carrots, and onions, with more corn on the cob and green beans, of course. Sometimes, there would be watermelon, cantaloupe, or homemade ice cream for dessert.
Dad always joked sometime around September that we had now eaten so much corn, it was sure to be coming out of our ears. We were more than a little relieved to be done “eating out of the garden” when October rolled around. But of course, the garden produce prevailed in a different form throughout the year.
It always made me smile to see Easter and Halloween working together like that.
An idyllic, homestead upbringing, you ask? My dad would tell you, “There’s no such thing as a perfect childhood.” But he’s also quick to point out that “a retentive memory is the sign of a happy childhood.”
At eighteen, I moved away from home to attend college. That’s when I saw how the rest of Americans ate. And I felt it, too, around my midsection. Most shocking to me was the salad bar. How vegetables could be so limp, pale, and flavorless was beyond me, as if it had all been floating in some shared bath for two weeks. Partway through college, I married my high school sweetheart who had also grown up “eating out of the garden.” Together, we spent more than a decade in cities around the country, selecting withered organic produce each week (once we could afford it, that is) from under the relentless glare of fluorescent lights.
A summer garden isn’t a whimsical choice for those of us who were raised eating from one; it’s an instinct. Like rocking a newborn the first time he cries. It’s just what we know to do. As for me and my hubby, the summer garden is literally built into our bones. For him, it was more the reward of plucking down a fresh piece of fruit at the end of a long school day, or the weekend comfort of a warm berry cobbler. But for me, the produce from those childhood gardens, which glow forever green in my memory, comprised roughly half of the fuel that my cells grew on my first eighteen years of life.
Checking Out: First 14 Grocery Items We’ve Cut from Our List
So, here it is; the list of everything we’ve stopped buying from the grocery store so far, we hope . . . for good!
#1. HERBAL TEA
When weighing input for output, growing your own tea ranks high on the homestead list. Not only is growing herbs quite easy, harvesting and processing them for tea could not be simpler. All I do is hang dry them or lay them flat onto a cloth for a few days at a time before transferring into rows of glass jars. The finished product is as pretty as the herb garden they came from. As for taste, let’s just say storebought tea is an “old bag” compared. My husband and I drink a cup of our herbal tea every night before bed, and when there are colds in our family, all four of us drink it continually. So, putting up enough for the entire year is a pretty big accomplishment!
*Stay tuned for my herbal tea tutorial, including a recipe for our favorite blend!
Low-maintenance, high yield, versatile, and truly beautiful. What’s not to love? I have so much gratitude for potatoes. They do their thing all summer long without complaint and then bury us in a year’s supply of carbs and calories. We estimate we harvested between 200 and 300 pounds of potatoes this season which should be more than enough for the year, provided we “cured” them correctly.
The only way the peas could have been more prolific this season is if they had rained from the sky. It’s hard to explain the magic of watching peas grow. The delicate (and delicious) foliage appears fragile yet is indeed formidable! Frost, hail, wicked winds . . . the pea plant will not be ruffled. We ate them fresh. We ate them stir-fried. And we shelled and froze enough to last us for soups and stews and side dishes until spring.
#4. CULINARY HERBS
We’ve kissed those four-dollar “fresh herb” packets goodbye and all we can say is good riddance. We feast on fresh herbs for half the year and preserve our excess in jars of oil and butter for the winter months. It’s a delicious all-year solution. Check out our indulgent herb butter recipe here.
When August handed me the first tomato of summer, I went to the freezer and assessed how many jars of salsa remained from last year’s harvest. Ten was the count and marked the first item to be scratched off the purchase column for our little homestead. I dipped into our salsa supply each and every week of the tomato-less months and had more to spare! What a pride and joy. This year, our salsa supply boasts even more reason to celebrate. Not only are the jars full of our homegrown tomatoes, but we also grew enough peppers and garlic to not have to supplement these ingredients from the store!
#6. GREEN BEANS
In truth, I haven’t bought green beans for years. I was in my twenties the first time I attempted to eat a store-bought green bean and could not actually believe it was the same vegetable as the tender, sweet munchables of my childhood. In the end, I decided I’d rather not eat them than try to swallow their backtalk. Well, after two summers on the homestead, we’ve made up and I am ecstatic to be eating green beans again. Although, our beans boast more colors than just green. We snacked on them raw all summer, sautéed them up as a side for dinner as much as we wished, and still managed to freeze enough to dole out over the winter months
Can you ever have enough garlic? We thought we planted plenty our first year and were shocked when we ran out mid-winter. This year we share-cropped with my parents and *should* have enough to get us through until the summer when we’ll start cooking up those delicious scapes once again. Meanwhile, we are planting a ridiculous amount of garlic this fall. Why? Three reasons. One, I have found that as long as I have a steady supply, I will add garlic to almost everything I make. Two, it is so much fun to sow garlic before the first snow and then watch it pop up after the spring thaw, no cultivating required. And three, garlic really is a fabulous crop to help combat bad bugs throughout the garden. Planting it in the fall ensures a built-in bug protection layer come the first signs of spring. That’s almost as awesome as garlic bread.
#8. PUMPKIN & SQUASH
Confession: we haven’t grown pumpkins or squash since we moved to this homestead. And yet, we’ve been eating homegrown pumpkin and butternut squash in soups, stews, pies and breads for three years now out of the freezer. In other words, we’re STILL EATING our 2021 harvest back from our golf course garden. This year, I planted a few pumpkin and butternut squash seeds and raised them to little plants before giving them to my dad to add to his pumpkin patch. In exchange, we have been allowed to pilfer a few armloads (and one 500-pound tractor load of ornamentals) that will more than cover us through the winter and probably then some.
In short, zucchini, squash, pumpkins . . . these are such generous plants that not every garden needs to grow them in order to meet the demand. Crop sharing is so liberating to the homesteader, we highly recommend it. Share, trade, barter, and free yourself from the mistaken notion that you must grow every single thing you eat on your own plot of land. We’re just figuring this out now.
Like the squash family, the tomatillo plant is like a rich uncle at Christmas time. These bonsai-tree like plants adorn themselves with a hundred Chinese lanterns and it’s simply a thrill to see. You really only need two plants. I planted three and have two gorgeous volunteers as well that popped up in truly terrible soil. Gotta love their spirit. The kids sit over giant bowls of tomatillos in late summer and fall hulling them gleefully for me. We call activities like these “Skill School” which they eat up . . . often literally. Once hulled, we toss them in the oven to roast along with some garlic, onions, tomatoes, and peppers. Then we blend it all up with a splash of lime juice and voila! Salsa Verde all year long. Pour over enchiladas. Mix into chili or stew. Spice up your tacos. Have on fish for a twist. Make a fiesta salad dressing. Ok, or just eat with a bag of tortilla chips.
#10. TOMATO SAUCE
Pasta and pizza are next-level when slathered in a slurry of tomatoes that were allowed to actually ripen on the vine. Tomatoes are one of those miracle plants. Every year I’m just amazed how much fruit a single vine can put out.
#11. GOURMET MUSHROOMS
Tent-grown mushrooms have been one of our family’s highlights of the year. We cannot believe how easy it has been to grow them nor how divine they are to cook up. If you are interested in “fruiting” some shrooms yourself, check out our previous post: 🍄March of the mushROOM🍄
Husbandry for hens has been so much more rewarding than I expected. Enchantment rises up within me every time I open the nesting box door and am greeted by a pastel rainbow of eggs. Of all the things we have grown and raised together on the homestead thus far, I think our chicken coop has made the biggest impact on our family. The time our kids have spent with these chickens has been an invaluable experience. Bruschetta scrambles have really just been the cherry tomato on the top.
*We have an assortment of Americauna and Olive Egger hens
Yes, we’ve actually quit purchasing bread entirely. What’s more, I never actually planned to stop buying store-bought bread. I just went sourdough starter crazy this year (because yum) and suddenly realized the other day that we have not purchased a single morsel of bread in about six months. This includes sandwich bread, bagels, English muffins, etc. And in case you suspect that I’m kneading bread all day, I assure you I’m not. I’ve got into the swing of slow-fermenting dough, and it truly does not add much kitchen time to my meal-prep. But it delivers ten-fold on flavor and satisfaction. Each week, I now make my standard sourdough bread, sourdough naan or flatbreads, and English muffins for a weekend brunch. All I need to tackle now is tortillas.
*Stay tuned for my upcoming bread post with all my favorite sourdough recipes!
To be clear, we aren’t slaughtering chickens all over the place. Carnivore may be the word that comes to mind when considering the above photo, but actually we are only partly so. My hubby and I became plant-based about twelve years ago now which means that our family keeps our animal consumption to ten percent or less of our total caloric intake. In other words, we’re not eating a ton of poultry. We maybe eat half a dozen chickens in a year plus a Thanksgiving turkey which we’ve been roasting up wild the last few years. If you’ve heard that wild turkeys are dry and “gamey” it’s not true. In fact, the past few Thanksgivings we have enjoyed the most delicious centerpieces I’ve ever tasted.
Beyond the flavor, it’s lovely to watch the turkey families foraging in the forest and clearing all spring, summer, and fall and then take a big tom for a holiday meal. What a different thing it is buying a shrink-wrapped carcass whose entire six months of life was passed in a building.
As for chicken, we hadn’t planned on sourcing anything but eggs this year. But there were seven roosters in the coop who decided otherwise. This summer it was eat or be eaten. Suffice it to say, we’ve enjoyed two oven-roasted roosters so far and I must say they have both been delicious. Perhaps vengeance makes the stomach grow fonder.
So . . . are we saving money?
In total, we estimate that we are currently saving more than $2,000 on our yearly grocery bill, but this has been a very difficult thing to calculate. It’s hard to know how much our surplus crops have filled in gaps other places, causing us to eat less of other items. In addition, the constant increase in grocery prices these days has made our monthly grocery intake difficult to assess. In the end, all we have saved and more has gone into the start-up costs for our garden. But for us, the more we homestead, the less our focus is on monetary savings. Growing and foraging food is becoming a health-savings account as well as an insurance plan. It’s an investment in our physical, mental, and emotional well-being with an underwriting of food security. We’re growing food that ranks among the healthiest and most delicious on the planet. And we’re doing it together, as a family. How can we stamp a price on that? We have a long way to go, by any calculation, but are so excited about what next year has in store for us!
Are you checking out from the grocery store? Comment below what you’ve cut from your list so far!
Thank you for reading!
Love, Candace Arden